In last week’s blog, we considered some pre-Reformation traditions of Christian education. Let us consider now some examples from the Reformation as documented in C. B. Eavey’s History of Christian Education (Moody Press, Chicago, ILL, 1971):
The name most commonly associated with the Reformation is that of Martin Luther. Luther viewed education as the primary means for furthering the gospel and placed special emphasis on the Christian education of youth. The following remarks have been attributed to him: “I am very much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount” (What Luther Says; Concordia, 1959), p. 449.
John Calvin, one of the theological giants of the Reformation, viewed education as being at the heart of the propagation of the Gospel. His efforts included the founding of schools and the promotion of education for all ages. In particular, he believed it was the special duty of the church to educate its children and proposed doing so through a universal system of schools designed to teach fundamental academic disciplines rooted in Biblical truths (Eavey, p. 150).
John Knox drove the establishment of Calvin’s system of education in Scotland where he made the church responsible for providing a Christian education for all classes and both genders of children. The inclusion of females in the educational process was significant because of the long-standing tradition of educating males only.
In France, the Huguenots founded many elementary and secondary schools in the pattern modeled by Calvin. This model was repeated in England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and as far away as colonial America.
Eavey points out that Calvin’s establishment of the Academy of Geneva became the “nursery of Protestant preachers and teachers for other lands,” as well as the model for the University of Leyden, the University of Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Harvard, among others. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the influence of Calvin’s philosophy of Christian education. It was applied throughout much of northern Europe, England and America at all levels of education—from the elementary school to the university (Eavey, p. 164). Coupled with his systematic theology and his philosophy of civil government, Calvin’s philosophy of Christian education was a primary force behind the formation of the modern constitutional governments of these nations.
As was the case with the pre-Reformation movements, education was perhaps the most vital element in the spread of the gospel throughout the Reformation movement. Eavey observes:
Every Reformation leader, including Luther in Germany, Calvin in France and Switzerland, Zwingli and Beza in Switzerland, Knox in Scotland, Cranmer and Ridley in England, and Ussher in Ireland, recognized the need for stressing the church school idea as the basis for the growth of the church (Eavey, p. 219).
And, as noted in the last blog, the Catholic tradition of Christian education remained a primary part of its overall emphasis throughout most of its history.
One wonders, in the face of such established tradition, how the contemporary church could have drifted away from this vital priority?